Dan Walters: California school aid, safety net programs in budget conflict
05/15/2013 12:00 AM
05/15/2013 8:08 AM
Twenty-five years ago, California voters approved – albeit very narrowly – the education community's ballot measure that engraved a complex school finance structure into the state constitution.
Educators said that Proposition 98 would only give schools a "fair share" of the state's revenue stream without raising taxes. Last year, however, those groups persuaded voters to pass a tax increase that was needed, they said, to fully finance Proposition 98's provisions.
From the onset, it was evident that by giving schools more money than politics and fiscal economics otherwise would have allocated, Proposition 98 would create conflict with other big-ticket spending categories, such as health and welfare services and prisons.
Or, as yours truly wrote just after its passage in 1988: "The extra money for schools would have to be squeezed out of such politically sacrosanct categories as prison operations, health care for the poor or aid to counties. In carving a little bigger piece of the state financial pie for themselves, the educators have made enemies among advocates for those other programs."
The political and financial forces stemming from passage of Proposition 98 and of last year's tax increase coalesced Tuesday.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared in his revised budget that all of a multibillion- dollar revenue windfall must be given to schools, thus leaving advocates of restoring multibillion-dollar cuts in health and welfare services for the poor, the elderly and the infirm sputtering.
Although state revenue is up more than $4.5 billion this year over earlier estimates, the administration says the real bump, after adjustments, is under $3 billion and that Proposition 98 requires the state to give schools all of the extra money, and then some.
It includes $1 billion to implement the new Common Core standards and another $1.6 billion to make up for deferrals in state aid from past years.
Brown replied with a flat "no" when asked about safety net restoration, adding, "The money's not there," and implying that he would veto anything he considers imprudent.
It could be a big point of friction.
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, citing a "crisis of childhood poverty," said he hoped to "reach an accommodation with the governor," while Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg lamented that "the governor proposes few if any resources to restore cuts made over the past few years to the courts, and to health and human services."
Both hinted they may seek relief via higher revenue projections.
It's not an even fight.
School advocates, most notably the California Teachers Association, have both long-established political clout and Proposition 98's constitutional mandate on their side, while safety net groups are much weaker.
That's why, one supposes, the latter are planning big Capitol demonstrations.
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